I've made all sorts of chutneys and chunky fruit sauces that I've refrigerated and used quickly, but I've never preserved jars and jars of summer fruit with the proper canning method. It seems like I should try it, and what could be better than popping open a jar of homemade berry preserves in the dead of winter? Or, how pretty would it be to have a big stack of gleaming, jewel-toned jars of translucent, homemade jelly on a shelf in the kitchen? I'm one step closer to experiencing those things since I received a review copy of The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook. Blue Chair Fruit is a Bay Area jam company specializing in intensely flavored preserves, and the owner, Rachel Saunders, reveals her techniques for the preserving process in this new book. The reader is walked through definitions of jams, jellies, and marmalades, and then the fruit itself is discussed from seasonality, flavor, and texture to acidity and pectin for balancing a preserve. Then, the preserving process is carefully described with information about necessary equipment, sterilization, and cooking stages for different types of preserves. The recipes section offers preserves for every month of the year starting with citrus marmalades in January and moving into strawberry and rhubarb season in March. There's an early summer peach jam with green almonds that sounds lovely, and summer boysenberry jam with lemon verbena. There are jams with berries, plums, figs, and tomatoes, and a fall quince marmalade that I really want to try. In the meantime, since I haven't yet collected all the equipment I'll need for canning, I started with the candied orange peel.
I grabbed some Texas navel oranges and set about starting the process. First, the oranges were halved and juiced. The halves were then covered with water in a stock pot, the water was brought to a boil, simmered for ten minutes, and then drained and that process was repeated twice more. The brief cooking, draining, and cooking again helps to remove bitterness from the orange rinds. Next, the orange halves were covered with water again, and this time, they were left to cook for about an hour until tender. They were drained and allowed to cool, and then the pith and fibers were scooped from each half. A thin layer of white pith remained in each orange half as they were sliced into thin strips. The strips were then cooked with sugar and water for about an hour until the pith sides began to look translucent. The strips were left to cool in the sugar syrup and were then transferred to a wire rack set on a baking sheet where they sat until dry a day and a half later. The last step was rolling the dried orange strips in sugar, and now they could sit for up to twelve months if they had a chance of lasting that long.
They're chewy, bitter, sweet, and full of orange flavor. I can't wait to chop some of them to stir into dough for panettone or place pieces of them on top of homemade dark chocolate bark with nuts and swirls of white chocolate. I'll probably think of some other cookies or cakes to use them in too causing them to be gone far too fast, but this was a great first step in extending seasonal flavors. Now, I need to finally try my hand at canning and filling my kitchen with pretty jars of preserves.